Over the past 65 years the press has been given a succession of last chances to make self-regulation work. It has wasted them all, harming thousands of innocent people, provoking crisis after crisis and inquiry after inquiry. Here is the record.
Four years after a Royal Commission told the press to start regulating itself, nothing had been done. Only the threat of legislation forced them to create the General Council of the Press. Withdrawing his private member’s Bill, C.J. Simmons MP told the Commons: ‘I give warning here and now that if it [the Council] fails, some of us again will have to come forward with a measure similar to this bill.‘
A second Royal Commission told the press self-regulation wasn’t working and proposed steps to make it effective: ‘We think that the Press should be given another opportunity itself voluntarily to establish an authoritative General Council . . . We recommend, however, that the government should specify a time limit after which legislation would be introduced.‘
The third Royal Commission on the Press urged radical reform of the Press Council and said that if nothing was done parliament should act. The report said: ‘We recommend that the press should be given one final chance to prove that voluntary self-regulation can be made to work.’
Parliament backed the Calcutt Committee recommendations for radical change to self-regulation, including the establishment of an effective Press Complaints Commission. Papers were given a ‘year of grace’ to make this work and the Home Secretary, David Waddingston, told the Commons: ‘This is positively the last chance for the industry to establish an effective non-statutory system of regulation.’
The Calcutt Review concluded that the PCC was ‘not… an effective regulator of the press’. It recommended a Press Complaints Tribunal backed by statute. A Major government with a slender majority failed to implement this and the PCC continued.
In the Commons in July 2011, speaking after the revelation that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked, David Cameron said: ‘I accept we can’t say it’s the last chance saloon all over again. We’ve done that.’
On November 29th 2012, when Lord Justice Leveson announces his recommendations, we can make history. This may not be the first public inquiry into the conduct of the press but this is the first time the public can find out the real conclusions without the press’s self-interested spin, because of social media. Make sure that you like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and share our posts with your friends. Send this post to them now. There can be no more last chances.